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Businesses should think about whether Excel is still fit for purpose.

Excel has long been an important spreadsheet application for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but is it still fit for purpose?

With 95 per cent of companies using Excel for financial reporting, it’s clear the vast majority are still willing to organise their HR and payroll through the application, despite its apparent limitations.

But while it is suitable for holding information and simple formulae, the real issue comes when additional layers of complexity are added. Excel is time-consuming, doesn’t produce complete reports and is difficult to search for specific information. Moreover, there is typically a number of different sources of data, rather than one single database.

Research has found that HR staff can reduce monthly admin by over 40 per cent by using software to keep track of their employee information and employees’ right to work. Indeed, a new personnel workflow system can save HR staff around 387 hours a year, which equates to £6,160.

These savings come from automating tasks including statutory payments, calculating overtime payments, making permanent data changes and dealing with statutory and company sick pay.

Bearing this in mind, why should SMEs turn their backs on Excel?

Familiarity breeds contempt

It is very easy for SMEs to get comfortable using Excel as it has become an industry standard, but this overlooks the capacity for a better alternative. Human error is known to be a huge issue with Excel, as a simple copy and paste mistake can radically alter a spreadsheet and give skewed figures. It’s important SMEs properly survey the market to see what options are out there, especially as technological improvements make software a compelling alternative.

Poor feature options

While Excel may have a host of excellent surface level features, it is lacking the kind of in-depth applications that the modern SME needs. If people want to take advantage of the analytical potential of their data, they need to consider a much more robust solution. For example, it is not possible to build sales reports within Excel without first carrying out a time-consuming export-and-adjust process.

Wasted time

HR staff can waste as much as six hours a week maintaining spreadsheets, which will act as a significant drain on resources. Data input errors, keeping version control and the misuse of built-in functionality are all common issues that can act as a drag on resources and prevent businesses focusing on more important issues. By automating routine processes, it will not only boost the efficiency of staff, but also remove the need for manual processing, form filling and completing and manipulating spreadsheets.

If SMEs want to be successful in the long term, they have to be free to concentrate on drawing up future strategies. By automating a series of processes within the HR and payroll function, this is exactly what they can do. This will also have a knock-on effect on talent management and staff retention, leading to a happier and better performing workforce.

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